AUD $3,800.00

Old Brass Astrolabe

Here's a quite fascinating old Muslim Brass Astrolabe covered in engraved Arabic inscriptions (some of them of the Zodiac.)

It has a good patina on the brass but is most likely a Late 19th/Early 20th Century replica.  There appear to have been a wave of copies made in Persia back then for sale to Westerners, even bearing famous signatures of bygone makers, whereas all of the really good genuine ones are now said to be in Museums.

So if you're after a really good one it'll cost you a fortune and may even then be a copy. This one if it's a copy is I assume an old one, either way I'd happily have it adding some exotic travel mystery to my walls.

What is an Astrolabe ?

"The word astrolabe is a Greek–Arabic hybrid that literally means “star-holder,” an apt description for a device that indicates the positions of the stars, sun, moon and planets. Essentially, it is a map of the heavens, depicting the apparent movements of celestial bodies in terms of celestial latitudes and longitudes, combined with slide rule-like features that allow calculation."

Or to quote another source,

"The instrument served chiefly to pinpoint stars; predict sunrises, sunsets and prayer times; find the qibla (the direction for prayer toward Makkah); survey land; and cast horoscopes. A simplified version, known as the mariner’s astrolabe, was used for navigation."

The Astrolabe, which is a complicated "calculator" is usually made up of a composite of interchangeable pieces:

Mater: (mother)  the round base with a raised central pin/hub and edge to hold a number of flat engraved discs plates (rather like stacked 45 rpm records on a turntable) this is also egraved on the reverse, when the whole suspended piece is turned round.

Rete : over the plate is fitted a pierced disk (the rete Latin for net), also made of brass, that is mostly cut away (pierced) so you could see the plate under it.

Rule : a rule rather like a pivoting clock hand fixed by a central pin/hub, which is then fixed with an inserted locking pin. 

(This central round brass locking pin, which is old, is a replacement and has been bent to lock it, whereas it should easily come apart to allow reassembly in different conjuctions for different purposes. This lovely old pin or nail will be difficult to remove with out destroying it, so I won't...I bent it a little to test it but backed off, as I couldn't replace it with another as old.)

But because I can't/won't open it by destroying this pin I can't access the two (at least) engraved discs, which are held inside, so for me they remain a mystery.

This old engraved brass Astrolabe, was found in Dubai, but where before that arouses questions. What may be a clue to its origin is the sculpted animal head on the ring from which it was suspended, this could be a crocodile, and therefore possibly from Egypt  (Nile Crocodile ?)

You'll notice what appear to be white spots arranged around both the rete and the back of the mater. These are what appears to be "tinning" which looks like silver but doesn't tarnish. These shiny spots mark key reference points at specific junctions not just decorative motifs.

I'd avoid polishing this piece at all but you might use a dry cloth on it but if you really polish it you will remove any age it has.

It's cute to think that many refer to these ancient designs as "computers" because of their extraordinary computing capabilities.


Age: 19th - 20th Century

Size: H 425 mm x W 255 mm

Weight:  3760 grams